Selk’nam Song 1907/1923/1956

Original Publication:
Cantos del Hain

I wrote this text for the catalog of the exhibition Cantos del Hain, curated by the choreographer and musician Pablo Esbert and the visual artist Federico Vladimir and based on his research on the rituals practiced by the Amerind Selk’nam people, and, more specifically, about their great ceremony of the Hain.

It was Pablo and Federico who encouraged me to approach the French-American anthropologist Anne Chapman. To analyze the theme, I searched through sound libraries to listen to the recordings that Charles Wellington Furlong, in the early 20th century, and Gusinde, in the 1920s, had made. While Gusinde, it became apparent, had recorded the selk’nam song as an anonymous entity, Chapman endeavored to transform his object of study into a subject of its own. Specifically, her object or subject of study was Lola Kiepja, with whom it could be said that he developed a friendship, though he equally and occasionally addressed her in terms of extreme condescension and paternalism.

This dynamic is, anyway, not that different from the role that most ethnographers have fulfilled throughout history, in that they have ignored taste or have blindly assumed a political dimensions in the productions of other cultures. Nevertheless, Chapman’s practice entails a necessary example of a change of era and of listening: that of sitting down with the person being recorded and listening together to what has been captured.

*Lola Kiepja died in the regional hospital of Río Grande, in Tierra del Fuego, on October 9, 1966. Chapman died on June 12, 2010, in Paris.